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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press PolitiFact Goes Post-Modern

PolitiFact Goes Post-Modern

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Tuesday, 20 December 2011 16:52

I will join in the piling on exercise. Politifact, which is supposed to verify the veracity of claims made by politicians, jumped into the world of language devoid of meaning in its selection of the "lie of the year." 

Politifact's "lie of the year" was the claim by Democrats that the House Republicans voted to end Medicare when they voted for Representative Ryan's system of premium supports, or vouchers. Under this plan, people who turn age 65 after 2022 would not get the traditional Medicare plan. Under the Ryan plan, seniors would be given a sum of money by the government, which they could then use to buy into a range of plans. The proposal includes no guarantee that the money provided by the government would be sufficient to purchase an adequate plan. The Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) projections imply that it would be grossly insufficient to pay for a Medicare equivalent policy. 

Those are the basic facts [read the CBO analysis and/or the projections that we derived from the CBO analysis]. Given these facts, how can it be a "lie" to say that the Republicans voted to get rid of Medicare? 

In the Politifact world, if a company replaces its defined benefit pension with a 401(k) plan, workers who said that the company was getting rid of the pension would be liars. The Medicare system has existed as a fee for service program for almost half a century. It does allow for other options, but people have always been able to choose the traditional fee for service plan and the vast majority of beneficiaries have always chosen this option.

Representative Ryan and his Republican colleagues in Congress voted to take away this option for people turning age 65 after 2022. That is the truth on Planet Earth, in Politifact-land this counts as not only a lie, but as the "lie of the year."

Comments (8)Add Comment
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written by Bart Hobson, MD, December 20, 2011 5:12
First of all, I enjoy and respect your critiques of media stories about economics, which are almost as error-ridden as stories about medicine.

But I hope I'm not simply reacting defensively when I question your recommendation for importing more foreign physicians, as competition, to correct our excessive medical costs.

Our medical costs are driven by our physicians, hospital administrators, and drug and device manufacturers. We currently bring many foreign physicians here, both primary care and specialty care. I am not aware of any study that shows they practice differently from the physicians in the communities they join. The difference between high-cost communities and lower-cost communities is the result of physician practice choices, as most fluently described by Atul Gawande, MD, in the New Yorker (e.g.,the 6/1/09 issue and his 6/23/09 blog post).

Can you direct me to any study that shows foreign-born and/or trained physicians practice more cost-effective medicine in America than other physicians?

I know this current post wasn't directed to this point, but you've brought it up several times in posts which I didn't see right away. I agree our costs are excessive and would do more to bring them down, if I knew what that would be (I suspect restricting physicians' freedom to order any test or treatment they wished would have to be part of it).
these facts are out of sight
written by Union Member, December 20, 2011 6:38
Is this another fact that could only have been purchased in secret by Citizens United?
Physicians fees
written by Dean, December 20, 2011 7:43
Bart,

average compensation for physicians in Europe if around half of what it is in the U.S. They have this in their health care statistics, which unfortunately you have to buy. I might be able to dig up these data in a free spot on their website, but I don't have the time right now to track it down.

Anyhow, if we brought more physicians into the U.S. it would drive down the wages of physicians just like immigrant construction workers bring down the wages of construction workers in the United States.
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written by Kat, December 20, 2011 10:50
Bart wrote:
Our medical costs are driven by our physicians, hospital administrators, and drug and device manufacturers. We currently bring many foreign physicians here, both primary care and specialty care. I am not aware of any study that shows they practice differently from the physicians in the communities they join.

I agree. How does it drive health care costs down if we bring in physicians that are just going to perform more screening colonoscopies or cardiac caths?
At any rate-- do countries such as Canada or the UK really have more physicians per capita than the U.S.?
WSJ really to blame?
written by RAM, December 21, 2011 7:40
Turns out the original source for the concept that Ryan's plan was killing Medicare was not Democrats, but rather was a piece in the Wall Street Journal by their Congressional reporter, Naftali Bendavi. So if they were determined to label the idea a lie--which it is not--they should have blamed the WSJ, not Democrats who picked the idea up and ran with it.

But then PolitiFact didn't seem to be so much determined to turn up an actual lie as to blame Democrats for lying this year so as not to get the right wing in a huff by calling them out for their repeated lies.
...
written by bmz, December 21, 2011 7:41
To bring these comments back to the issue: given the huge quantity and egregiousness of real Republican lies, Politicfact's position is scarily Orwellian.
Per capita physicians
written by David, December 21, 2011 3:37
Here is a map http://ucatlas.ucsc.edu/health...cians.html that illustrates that, on average, the per capita average physician to patient ratio is higher in at least half the the Eurozone, Russia ... Asia does worse.

On another point, colonoscopy screenings are cost effective in that colon cancer is easily treatable when caught early; if not caught early, the costs are significant and the result painful. I doubt that most doctors (and perhaps GPs need to be excluded from this comment) are prescribing unnecessary procedures, I'd like to see figures on that assumption.
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written by Kat, December 22, 2011 7:07
David,
I found some OECD stats. In 2009 Canada had the same physicians per capita. It was not broken down by specialty.
On another point, colonoscopy screenings are cost effective in that colon cancer is easily treatable when caught early
Aaargh! It would take too long to describe my personal reasons for frustrations with statements such as this. Let me just say my frustration led me to this author:http://www.amazon.com/Overdiag...883&sr=1-1
The author is an internist with a background in economics.
I will admit to reading a book that confirms my biases, but I still feel his argument is strong.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.

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